Finding Tales to Tell
Finding an engaging story can be as simple as recasting a well-known classic with unexpected characters or plot twists. For example, blackbirds in the nursery rhyme 'Sing a Song of Sixpence' have on certain occasions become crocodiles "baked in a pie".
One approach I find useful to engage a young audience is to work in the names of they and others they know. In 'Rub-a-dub-dub', "the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker" often become the names of my children and whichever of their friends has a name I can think of a clever rhyme for.
Tap Your Inner Genius
Generating your own story from scratch can feel daunting when staring at a blank canvas. However, I find that focusing on a few principles helps move the process forward.
If your an amateur writer like myself and struggle to find just the right word, sites like RhymeZone and Rhymer can help you complete a line, while other web sites like this one are a useful source of adjectives to add color to your prose.
With a growing extended family spread over ever-widening distances, I find that capturing and passing along family stories helps foster a sense of identity in young children. These family treasures range from photos of times past to other information passed down across generations.
For example, my grandmother painted a number of paintings during her lifetime - all of which have far more sentimental than economic value. Over 50+ years, she shared those paintings amongst her ever growing family and they now hang in households that are (literally) thousands of miles apart. Nevertheless, by grabbing photos of those paintings when I can and putting them in a central place that my young children can access (with bits of history narrated by family members), I can preserve a bit of who my children's great-grandmother was (and in turn, who they are).
Dazzle Your Audience
In the book "Creativity, Inc.", the author (Ed Catmull) describes the founding and early growth of Pixar (the animation studio that brought us digital movies such as Toy Story). In one anecdote, he describes how the animation team had decided to show one of their first digital short movies (about 2 minutes in length) at a graphics conference in 1984. Given the level of technology then available, the animators had insufficient time to complete rendering of the film, which left certain portions as crude, uncolored animated wire frames when displayed on screen. While the animators fretted at the rough, unfinished look when these segments replayed at the conference, most attendees were so emotionally engaged in the story that they did not even notice. Ed notes that the same lesson regularly repeated itself throughout the early days at Pixar - visual polish is not as important as the story you tell.
I have found a similar experience in story telling (at least with young listeners). An illustration of some sort is powerful. It provides context for a child to visualize the story being told. However, I find that the quality of the photo is much less important than the story you are personally telling (and inconsistencies between photos can provide a rich source of questions from young listeners - providing no shortage of challenges for a story teller's own creative thinking).
One source for photos I find useful is of those I have taken myself (or sourced from friends via social media). While not required, I try to take pictures at "eye level" (meaning the eyes of the photo's subject). This pic of "Myrtle Turtle" was taken from about 30 feet away (although, the cameras on most smart phones these days are equally capable of taking excellent photos for my story telling purposes). I find that capturing both eyes conveys a sense that the character is talking to the reader, while profile views (with only one eye visible) can indicate that the character is looking elsewhere relevant to the story itself.
Another useful source of photos are those you find online. This web site mentions a number of sources for public domain photos. I have had good luck with Pixabay.
For example, "Farm Tales" (which you can access by clicking at right) is a short story I created using only public domain photos found on Pixabay.
Work with a Professional
If you want to read a bit more about engaging an illustrator, I have written another blog post (Engage an Illustrator to Enchant Your Stories) highlighting a few points I have found helpful in managing that process (in particular to minimize costs).
Share Stories. Create Memories. EpicGem.
How do you capture that story, share it and preserve it? This is what we hope to achieve with EpicGem. We want to provide you with easy to use tools to create and share the stories and memories that you want to pass along, told in the way you want to tell them.
Feel free to check out the initial EpicGem beta site and share any thoughts you have to [email protected]. We would love to hear what memory-preserving, story-telling tools would most help you.